Head of a Woman (Dora Maar)

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Since Picasso began to draw portraits of Dora Maar when he was staying at Mougins in 1936, her face became more and more an obsession at the basis of his inventions and reconstructions of the human head. Among the early versions there are many lifelike portraits, exact studies of the first direct impression of her features. Treating her appearance with great tenderness and often combining her features with poetic fantasies, he explored every line and every surface, watching her expression and her gestures. […]

For Picasso the subject, ever since the revolution which occurred in the Demoiselles d’Avignon, has been the victim of his will to destroy appearances. Vision rather than subject-matter becomes supreme. The cubists had all destroyed the form of objects such as guitars, bottles and even the human body when reorganising their shapes in still-lifes or figure compositions, but none had had the same courage as Picasso to demolish the human head. What is more, he did not confine this disruptive process to his male friends, as he had done in the early cubist days […]. The face of his closest and dearest woman friend was eligible to suffer the same violence.

Picasso uses the features of a face as raw material. He knows them intimately from long observation and from frequent studies made either from life, or from an equally visible mental image.

Text: Roland Penrose, Picasso: His Life and Work, New York, Schocken Books, 1962, p. 303.


What was happening in 1939?

  • Picasso prints the Vollard Suite etching series.
  • The Spanish Civil War ends.
  • Germany invades Poland, initiating the Second World War.
  • Victor Fleming’s film Gone with the Wind premieres in Atlanta, Georgia.

Related Works

Picasso's Universe